What Helped Keep Us Sane
Control. A lot of people’s “hobbies” seem to have as much to do with being able to establish control within the chaos as they do the activity itself. Whether improving your surroundings, cooking up a storm, focusing on nutrition, or finding a new interest, along with the things that compel us to dabble like curiosity, satisfaction, and accomplishment comes joy — something that was not easy to find in the recent past.
This is not the first time Americans turned to hobbies. According to a piece on CNN.com, the uptick mirrors what happened during the Great Depression. Not a surprise since the same article notes that The Mayo Clinic listed hobbies as a form of self-care and a coping mechanism.
Most of us spent a lot of time at home over the last two years, and if you’re anything like me, you found several things you wanted to change about your environment. Our home improvement projects ranged from a new roof and a fresh coat of paint (both needed pandemic or not) to installing a new kitchen floor and reupholstering furniture. Our surroundings matter, especially during times of instability.
Just ask Brian Lott, Chief Communications Officer, Mubadala. Brian is based in the UAE and used his time to create a peaceful [oasis] for himself and his family. “During the initial lockdown, I had a pond built in the backyard, and have become a part-time zookeeper. The pond is home to my turtle, President Roosevelt, and her half-dozen, brightly colored koi companions. Experience, and the internet, say they recognize their caretakers, so every morning when she sees me, she flops around the sides of the pond in anticipation of the vegetable scraps or dried shrimp I’m going to drop into the water (or when I’m up for a stoop, hand-feed into her mouth.) I bought her a millstone which sits just above the waterline, so she can bask when the sun comes out. It’s the first thing I see in the morning when I step outside. A bit of watery nature, amidst the sand and cacti.”
Like a number of others, Clarkson Hine, SVP, Corporate Communications & Public Affairs, Beam Suntory, relocated to Brooklyn from Chicago with his job. Though “move-in ready,” the Hines still had some tweaks here or there, like adding wallpaper in a few places.
“Procuring wallpaper was the easy part. Finding someone to hang it was a much different story. Months went by…I’ve always been pretty handy around the house, but it had been 23 years since I had hung wallpaper. But I soon found it’s kind of like riding a bike, only made more hazardous by the ladder and sharp cutting tools…I completed the job quite nicely. Nice enough to gain spousal approval to take my domestic side hustle to the guest room.
Being organized is not really a hobby, though for some it certainly is an extreme sport. It’s also another way we give order to a chaotic world.
“When you are organized, there is less chaos which can bring about a sense of calm and control. It is one of those things that we can influence and control despite what’s happening in other areas of our lives or communities,” Amy Tokos, founder of Freshly Organized, told home and décor site Apartment Therapy.
For Maryanne Rainone, Client Partner/COO, Heyman Associates, it’s all about her closets: “My clothes closet is color coordinated and neat as a pin. Linen closet — perfect; baking cabinet — my obsession with OXO containers is evident.”
Not to be outdone, the garage of Brett Jewkes, EVP, Chief Brand and Communications Officer, Blank Family of Businesses, is a work of art. “My garage, since the pandemic, is the cleanest one in America.” Whatever makes you happy, I guess.
The kitchen was definitely another pandemic go-to — though I for one had a lot of trouble procuring flour in March 2020.
Joanne Bischmann, Retired Vice President Chief Communication Officer, Harley-Davidson Motor Company, had just retired from a long career at Harley-Davidson when everything shut down and scuttled her travel plans. “Suddenly I was home bound and looking at days and days of no plans. So, I did what many started to do; I baked and cooked. I baked bread, pies, cookies, cakes, homemade pop tarts, gluten free focaccia, and vegan breakfast bites. I moved on to soups (to eat with all that bread) and then discovered my long unused ice cream maker. I perfected frozen custard…vanilla custard, coffee custard, cherry custard, strawberry custard, mint chocolate custard and surprisedly good peanut butter custard. Two plus years into my retirement and the pandemic, I have backed off the baking. Next up is travel. In the meantime, I might try bagels…”
Lisa Borders, Co-Founder & CEO, Golden Glow Media, used the pandemic to make dramatic lifestyle changes including daily exercise and clean eating. “I’ve always loved to cook — it’s a therapeutic thing in addition to being a southern staple. Now, I’ve found even more pleasure and better health in plant-based, gluten-free meal planning and prep plus sugar-free baking.”
“People have taken this time at home to up-skill themselves and discover the joy to making their own cocktails,” Brenda Fiala, Head of Insights, Bacardi Limited told Forbes. “They have gone from being satisfied with simple mixes to desiring more elaborate cocktails with premium quality spirits.
Just ask Karen Van Bergen, EVP, Dean of Omnicom University and Chief Environmental Sustainability Officer, Omnicom: “I started serious cocktail making…In the beginning I had very limited alcohol supplies and had to improvise a lot. But over the two years I have built up my bar cart with so many different boozes and bitters and have quite a reputation among my friends for making awesome cocktails! I love it as much as cooking, the first sip to try is like tasting a new dish you made.” Ummm, party at Karen’s house, anyone?
Sarah Brunning Meron, VP, Corporate Communications, IBM, picked up a new pastime during lockdown…birdwatching. “I live in downtown NYC near Hudson River Park and for the first few months of the pandemic the only real activity was taking walks near the water. I always enjoyed watching the birds in the water, but the pandemic pushed me over the edge to buying good binoculars, downloading all sorts of birdy apps, and finding myself doing something called ‘Bird Academy’ online through Cornell. In the summer of 2020, I started to venture up to Central Park for the birds, and now it’s a full-blown hobby. Personally, it’s the only good thing that’s come of any of this… and for this introverted comms person, it’s been a very welcome discovery.”
Farnaz Khadem, Vice President, University Communications, Stanford University, really found a way to escape. “I actually spent a lot of last summer (2021) on a new Harley Davidson. I learned to ride several years ago but always wanted to have a Harley…I spent several months riding with a local Harley riding club and exploring areas around LA. It was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.”
Inspired by the Queen’s Gambit on Netflix, Kym White, Consultant, Alphabet’s Verily, rediscovered a throwback to her junior high days: Chess. “We had a chess board that had been tucked into a closet for years — in the midst of dry spells when it seemed we had seen everything friends told us we had to watch, we played. Dozens and dozens of times. It requires all of your concentration, not allowing space for other events of the day, and served as a constant reminder to keep your eye on the big picture and not just your next move.”
Seemingly just distractions, pandemic hobbies seem to hold more meaning for people and will hopefully help people focus on some of the more pleasurable times when an activity ferried us away from the reality of COVID-19, even if just for a little while.
Next up: Improving Ourselves — Physically, Mentally and Spiritually